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The Person and the Individual

July 6, 2011

John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power (2010)

This post is going to be a much needed departure from the typical power struggles of politics, into the more gentle realm of social theory, -or so I believe it to be.  What I’ve been reading lately has focused on the struggles that take place in identity politics, wherein I define and classify myself as a heterosexual, biracial, Canadian, young male.  The problem that I’ve been exposed to by John Holloway in Change the World Without Taking Power, and one that I am inclined to believe, is that the formation of these identities is contradictory to the building of community, and our progress in humanity.

The problem emerges, when we begin to label ourselves according to certain identities.  The identities that I’ve used to define myself, do precisely that.  However are they accurate?  Well perhaps I could have said that I am a Marxist, or a socialist, or “far left” politically.  However these too, are incorrect.  What I intend to argue, as Holloway seems to express as well, is that I am in fact so much more than these specific titles; as is everyone for that matter.  Rather, I am Matt Law, who is sympathetic towards the ideas of Marx, socialism, feminism, environmentalism, and so on and so forth.  That being said, I also support notions of freedom and liberty, that are contrary to socialism a la Stalin or Castro, despite the fact that they too are socialists.

So what is the point, then, of giving all of these titles and what have you to identify people?  It is because it takes the individualism out of the person.  When I am a person, that can be defined under certain categories, I am no longer a unique individual, because that individuality has been pre-established by my identities.  As a result of ‘person-hood’, I can be used in statistics for analysis, so that generalizations can be made about me, and people “like” me, but the fact is that they are not I.  What is neglected is the individual agency that everyone of us has, when we prescribe to identities.

There is historical evidence to support the claim that identities are inherently conflictual throughout history.  What defined, and gave reason for, the genocide of Jewish people during the Holocaust was nothing more than the identity that they held in being of a certain religion; giving absolutely no regard to who they were as individuals.  The subordination of women throughout history has been perpetuated, not on the basis of what they have been able to accomplish as individuals but quite the contrary, it has been because they have been identified as women.  This same argument applies to any form of racism, any form of sexism, and frankly any form of discrimination known to mankind as far as I can understand, based on our desire to identify and classify everything.

So how do we move forward?  Perhaps we don’t.  However I believe what is necessary, and that is by no means the only way, is that we simply stop producing these identities, -sounds simple, wouldn’t you say?  What is needed, then, is to clearly acknowledge that all people are not created equally, but rather that we are all created differently, and that’s what makes us so great.

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One Comment
  1. Quy permalink

    “as Holloway seems to express as well, is that I am in fact so much more than these specific titles; as is everyone for that matter”….. What is the point of re-titling your title if you want to avoid being titled? Ofcourse everyone gets a title, thats what society is built on, Thats what laws are made from, Generalization is societies way of organizing billions of people you will never meet, Forget this “iam unique, Dont label me” bullshit, A title is a title is a title is a title, thats all it is.

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